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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy New Year - 2017

Since the millennium change, every year seems like we're in some science fiction movie. 2017 already!

Happy new year everyone!

And best wishes.

Nik

Friday, 30 December 2016

Last day for 160 titles in the e-book sale!

Welcome to the world-famous Great Big Crooked Cat Not Christmas Sale. 

All 160 Crooked Cat Kindle Books are 99p/99¢ across the Amazon network, for three days only; TODAY IS THE LAST DAY!

Start your journey with Crooked Cat and support indie publishing, here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=crooked+cat+publishing


Thursday, 29 December 2016

160 books on sale for 3 days!

What have you nabbed in this year's world-famous Great Big Crooked Cat Not Christmas Sale?

All 160 of my publisher's Kindle Books are 99p/99¢ across the Amazon network, for three days only (beginning 28 December).

Start your journey with Crooked Cat and support indie publishing, here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=crooked+cat+publishing

Among these bargains are my books:

SPANISH EYE
BLOOD OF THE DRAGON TREES

CATALYST
CATACOMB
CATACLYSM

THE PRAGUE PAPERS
THE TEHRAN TEXT

SUDDEN VENGEANCE


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Happy Christmas!

Wishing all readers and page-viewers a happy and peaceful Christmas.

[Normal blogging will be resumed soon-ish...]

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Book review - The Fenris Device



The Fenris Device is fifth in the Hooded Swan series (1974) by Brian Stableford.   
Spaceman Grainger is still shackled to the Swan and employ of its owner Charlot. He has been talked into taking the Swan into the hell of planet Leucifer V, the world the Gallacellans called Mormyr. It’s tricky, treacherous and his attempt fails. Plenty of fascinating convincing techno-gobbledegook as Grainger makes the attempt, his body and mind merged with the Swan’s controls. ‘I was really pounding the flux, because I needed all the shields up. Leucifer was a matter-dense system and you can’t go making tachyonic transfers in bad vacuum without a full complement of shields. As it was, we were bound to lose power when I went transcee…’ Transcee means going through the light barrier.

Why venture there?  Some Gallacellans want to recover a spaceship that was abandoned over a thousand years ago.

Stableford gives us another extra-terrestrial race: ‘the average Gallecellan is about seven feet tall, but he looks taller because he has big ears which stick upward from his head. At least rumour has it they are ears. After several hundred years, we still don’t know for sure. He has a face which might be yellow or brown, sometimes striped or blotched, the texture of wax. He has eyes in the back of his head as well as the front, he also has a mouth in the back of his head, but somewhat modified… One is for eating, the other is for talking. A Gallacellan usually turns his back on you to talk to you, but if you are another Gallecellan you have your back turned as well, so it doesn’t seem rude…’ (p19)

The current antipathy towards ‘globalisation’ has its pre-echoes here. ‘Worlds like Pallant were the only places where they could make a safe living now that the companies were steadily absorbing everything exploitable.’ (p21)

And: ‘The expansion of the companies was devouring the galaxy… War was coming. War between the companies and the law, war between the companies and each other. War between human and alien…’ (p139)

Fenris stems from the Old Norse/Icelandic – wolf, eater of the moon in the twilight of the gods. There’s a villain, a dwarf with a massive chip on his shoulder, who also happens to be deranged.

Yet again Grainger is aided by ‘the wave’ ensconced in his head, a symbiotic creature who has been around for a long time, and still has a few surprises for the host. 

Grainger tells us – and all and sundry – that he is no hero. Yet he tends to do heroic things. His endeavours to rescue friends stranded on the inhospitable planet vouch for that in some tense imaginative writing. Why put himself at risk? Maybe he can negotiate his freedom from his debt to Charlot, finally...

The final book in the series is Swan Song.
 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Crime – Across borders


Illegal immigrants are being moved into UK by criminal groups taking advantage of the open borders of the EU.

Last month, the leader of one group was arrested in Barcelona. He was in possession of over 100 fake Polish ID cards and passports. He’d helped immigrants enter the Schengen Zone then housed them here in Spain, also France or Belgium and thence to Dublin.

More than a hundred immigrants were arrested at Spanish airports, including Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, Santander, Tenerife, and Alicante. Over the last couple of years it is believed the group has helped at least 6,000 Ukrainian immigrants enter the UK illegally.

The group was nabbed due to collaboration with Europol and Belgian, French, Polish, Spanish and British authorities. This collaboration will continue post-Brexit.

Human trafficking is being used by a Spanish group in my thriller Blood of the Dragon Trees.

“Laura Reid likes her new job on Tenerife, teaching the Spanish twins Maria and Ricardo Chávez. She certainly doesn’t want to get involved with Andrew Kirby and his pal, Jalbala Emcheta, who work for CITES, tracking down illegal traders in endangered species. Yet she’s undeniably drawn to Andrew, which is complicated, as she’s also attracted to Felipe, the brother of her widower host, Don Alonso.

“Felipe’s girlfriend Lola is jealous and Laura is forced to take sides – risking her own life – as she and Andrew uncover the criminal network that not only deals in the products from endangered species, but also thrives on people trafficking. The pair are aided by two Spanish lawmen, Lieutenant Vargas of the Guardia Civil and Ruben Salazar, Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios de las Canarias.

“Betrayal and mortal danger lurk in the shadows, along with the dark deeds of kidnapping and clandestine scuba diving…”

See also SPANISH EYE



Crime - Frontline Spain



There are 440 organised crime groups currently operating in Spain, according to the Guardia Civil and the National Police here.  For the whole of Europe, there are about 3,600 such groups. A sobering thought.

Ten of those identified in Spain are considered ‘high intensity’ groups, which translates as having at least twenty members operating for more than three years, are trans-national and are poly-criminals – (the latter has nothing to do with the theft of parrots, but means the individuals are involved in one main criminal activity but also linked to others).

Such operations can have large complex networks, extending across borders (where border controls apply, please note, EU). They often operate under an apparent cover of legitimacy.

One example is a 40-year-old Spanish businessman in the construction industry who was arrested for running a money-laundering network in tandem with drug trafficking. Other similar groups deal in fraud as well as drug trafficking, illegal immigration, prostitution, burglaries and car theft.

Such a poly-criminal group can be found in the pages of Blood of the Dragon Trees.

“Laura Reid likes her new job on Tenerife, teaching the Spanish twins Maria and Ricardo Chávez. She certainly doesn’t want to get involved with Andrew Kirby and his pal, Jalbala Emcheta, who work for CITES, tracking down illegal traders in endangered species. Yet she’s undeniably drawn to Andrew, which is complicated, as she’s also attracted to Felipe, the brother of her widower host, Don Alonso.

“Felipe’s girlfriend Lola is jealous and Laura is forced to take sides – risking her own life – as she and Andrew uncover the criminal network that not only deals in the products from endangered species, but also thrives on people trafficking. The pair are aided by two Spanish lawmen, Lieutenant Vargas of the Guardia Civil and Ruben Salazar, Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios de las Canarias.

“Very soon betrayal and mortal danger lurk in the shadows, along with the dark deeds of kidnapping and clandestine scuba diving…”

See the reviews on Amazon.





Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Writing – editing - look out!




The other day I picked up one of my wife’s newly purchased paperbacks by a successful and popular author and opened it at random, page 280. I immediately thought that the author and editor had not really given the work enough consideration, if this example was anything to go by:

            She looked alarmed. “You’ll come back to London soon, I hope.”
            “If you’re there, then I’ll devise a good excuse.” He looked at her fondly, but his smile faltered.
            “I’m looking forward to riding out. I haven’t ridden a horse in years.”
            “Don’t worry, (the horse) is very placid. She’ll look after you. And so will I!”

No author name, no book title. That’s not the point. Let's consider this as an exercise in editing.

I checked the previous page and a bit. The scene is from the heroine’s point of view. So how can she ‘look alarmed’ since she can’t see herself? She felt alarmed, if we want to be simplistic, though this is virtually ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. She could show ‘alarm’ in several ways – stepping back, a hand to her throat or covering her heart, her lip quivering, her heart tripping, all visual or emotional responses.

As for ‘looked’ – we have variants of that repeated no less than four times in 8 lines of contiguous text in the book. They’re ‘echo words’ – lodged in the subconscious and spewed out in the first draft phase; but they should be expunged in the later editing sessions.

She looked alarmed. “You’ll come back to London soon, I hope.”
            “If you’re there, then I’ll devise a good excuse.” He looked at her fondly, but his smile faltered.
            “I’m looking forward to riding out. I haven’t ridden a horse in years.”
            “Don’t worry, (the horse) is very placid. She’ll look after you. And so will I!”

It’s quite simple to get rid of all those repetitions, look:

            Her throat tightened in alarm at the prospect of him never leaving here. “You’ll come back to London soon, I hope.”
            “If you’re there,” he said with a gentle smile, “then I’ll devise a good excuse.” But the curve of his lips faltered.
            “I’m excited about riding out. I haven’t ridden a horse in years.”
            “Don’t worry, (the horse) is very placid. She’ll take care of you. And so will I!”

As they’re both in a foreign country as they talk, perhaps she should have said, “You’ll return to London…” rather than “come back”.

And there’s still the question of why his smile faltered. Did he mean what he promised or not? As she noted it, wouldn’t she dwell on that, fearing his sincerity?

What caused the sudden switch to riding on a horse – when riding was last mentioned about a page earlier? No continuity of thought or speech, no leading phrase to generate the thoughts or words about riding; no flow.

Yes, this is a trifle unfair, a section 'taken out of context'. How many authors (me included) self-edit every little section of a book that can be about 100,000 words long? I’d argue that we try. But perhaps as some authors become successful, like this one, they become lazy and don’t exert themselves. On the other hand, in my humble opinion the editors aren’t doing their job, either.

So, look out for those irritating repetitions.

Book review - The Traveller


John Katzenbach’s tense psychological thriller The Traveller was published in 1987. He has published a number of crime novels since.



Detective Mercedes Barren is a widow of several years and a cop. She learns of the brutal murder of her niece Susan by a serial killer. Fellow cops eventually track down the culprit and he’s sentenced, though they can’t produce adequate evidence to charge him for Susan’s murder. The murderer is a nut, hearing voices from Allah in his head. A couple of clues, insignificant of themselves, nag at her and she becomes convinced that the nut hadn’t killed Susan; her niece’s death was a copycat.

Douglas Jeffers is a highly successful photographer; he travels all the time, getting scoops with his images of disaster, war and death. This isn’t a whodunit, so we soon realise that Douglas is a nut, too; driven to kill. He kills the kind of girl who’s easily convinced she’s posing for a Playboy centrefold.

Like many sociopaths, Doug wants notoriety, though his kills are usually copycats of other serial murderers. He kidnaps Anne Hampton, an English Lit major. In an unsettling sequence, he tortures and brainwashes her to the point where she will obey him and not seek escape. She becomes his diarist, his Boswell.

Martin is Doug’s younger brother, a psychiatrist. His patients are sex offenders and killers. Martin’s unaware of his brother’s predilection.

As Merce connects the links and finds Martin, the light begins to dawn. The pair hunt Doug; he in the hope of stopping his brother committing any more murders, she to exact vengeance.

There are many tense scenes involving Doug and Anne as his odyssey takes him to old haunts, to the places where he began his extra-curricular career. And there are glimpses of clever prose and characterisation.

Merce enjoyed watching football games. “But why football?” her niece had queried once. And Barren had replied, “Because we all need victories in our lives.” And this is what drives her to track down Susan’s killer – victory over evil personified.

Merce attends the trial of a Colombian immigrant, an accused killer for the illegal drugs industry. ‘Killers were the Kleenex of the drug industry; they were used a few times and then discarded unceremoniously.’ (p42) Nice touch, that.

Despite a tendency to distance the reader from his characters, Katzenbach can tug you in: ‘… she gave in to her sorrow, capitulating to all the resonances of her heart that she’d suppressed so successfully and was suddenly, completely, utterly taken over by tears.’ (p66)

Martin likens his patients to the piano. ‘We keep pushing at the keys, hoping to find a melody, usually discovering dissonance.’ (p137)

Merce has a tragic past; her young brother drowned. ‘She thought for an instant of the potency of fear, undiminished even as it travelled over the decades of memory.’ (p170) There’s quite a bit of fear in these pages, notably experienced by Anne.

There’s a modern obsession, strongly characterised by political correctness, which is not new; definitely imported from America: ‘We live in an enlightened age which is dependent upon euphemism… prisons are correctional facilities, manned not by guards but by correction officers, and prisoners are subjects. If we change the designation, somehow we believe the reality to be less evil and distasteful, though in actuality nothing ever changes.’ (p174) This is one step removed from the knee-jerk need to be offended by terminology.

The trail leads to the place where Doug’s childhood was tainted by adoptive parents. Young lives damaged, which can evoke sympathy, but cannot excuse the multiple murders. Here, it gets a little tense, though the denouement develops into a damp squib. The ending is satisfactory, but only just.

Perhaps the title is not the most appropriate, either. So Doug travels round the country, taking photos and lives. Born to kill might have worked, as this is a quotation from Doug: “She was born to die. I was born to kill. It was simply a matter of finding one another.”

The cover image is a detail from an ‘untitled’ photo-montage for an Australian paperback (Pan). It does the book no favours.

Throughout, I was rooting for both Mercedes and Anne, and I dearly wanted Doug to get his comeuppance, so I kept turning the pages. That’s a good sign.

Editor viewpoint:

There were some annoying writing habits that sometimes detracted from smooth story-telling. 

Frequently, Katzenbach persisted in referring to his heroine and other characters with full names:
Detective Barren did this, Detective Barren thought etc etc. She had a first name, so this should have been used consistently, or even ‘she’ which is unobtrusive and preserves the point of view.

When Martin and Doug are together talking, we read Douglas Jeffers said, and Martin Jeffers laughed; in short, we’re in neither character’s head. Thus we’re not involved.

Head-jumping occurs in scenes, particularly when Anne and Doug are together; it’s never confusing or distracting, and is probably necessary to convey their thought processes as they verbally fence. But the head-jumping does bring us out of the scene, and that’s why it isn’t recommended.

Word misuse; we all do it, I guess. ‘… turned his eyes away suddenly, averting his glance.’ A glance is for a moment, a second or so, not a study or stare, so probably it should have been ‘gaze’ here instead of ‘glance’.

My pet hates are the following: He wondered to himself… She thought to herself…  Well, as they’re thought processes, they must be generated within oneself – unless you’re an adept psychic perhaps! He wondered, she thought is adequate.

But these are quibbles and I could dismiss them to appreciate the story.